It was late Spring 1962 when America was shocked after Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita” premiered; drawing an “X” rating from the Catholic Church and other religious and family organizations who decried the movie’s story that centers around a middle-aged man who becomes obsessed with a teenage girl, Lolita.
While such goings on between older men and teen girls is almost commonplace in today’s open culture where anything goes; this was not the case some 50 years ago, in 1962.
Lolita premiered on June 13, 1962 in New York City, stated an American Film Institute (AFI) history of the film that said “word-of-mouth” soon made it America’s guilty pleasure.
Lolita is viewed as a comedy-drama film. It’s based on the classic novel of the same title by Vladimir Nobokov.
Both the Kubrick film and Nobokov novel are still very controversial, stated a local art house cinema that’s featuring a 50th anniversary celebration of the film.
Lolita Exposes Secret Desires
For this 50th anniversary, various type “Lolita” events are also being featured this spring season around the country where “Baby Boomers” – who were in their teens and early 20s when Lolita premiered in 1962 – are now taking “another look” now as dirty old men.
In turn, most fans of the film are “older men,” said one footnote about the film in the AFI history.
One Portland movie buff said: “Lolita is just as shocking and in your face today, as when I first saw it in 1962.”
Thus, what was a “film about a dirty old man wanting a teen girl” back in 1962 is today a highly respected “art film” that’s now in the AFI and other “best film lists” as one of the top 100 films of all time; while in England, Lolita is right up there with “Gone With the Wind” as an “American classic.”
Lolita Deals With An Old Man And A Young Girl
Due to the “ephebophilia-related” content of Lolita, this 1962 movie still carries a heavy R-rating; while some conservative groups still ban the film and give it an “X-rating.”
A college psychology text book defines ephebophilia as “the sexual preference of adults for mid-to-late teens, ages 15 to 19.
In turn, Richard Corliss, author of “Lolita” that was published 1994 by British Film Institute, Lolita’s are was “raised from 12 to early teens in the film to meet the MPAA standards.”
In turn, Corliss wrote how Sue Lyon was chosen for the title role due, in part, to her “more mature appearance.”
Also, Corliss explained how the master film director Stanley Kubrick – who was from Bronx, New York, but lived most of his life in England – warned the censors in both America and overseas that he must portray “a sexually active girl” that would be around “age 14.”
Lolita Pushes Back Against 1962 Sexual Norms
However, those in the American public who were concerned about “ephebophilia” thought Kubrick’s “Lolita” a “scandalous movie,” reported The New York Times after the film premiered in June 1962.
Still, men in 1962 were part of the American culture that seemed both dazed and confused when it came to sexual preferences across age groups.
Just as there are scandals involving older men with younger women today; it was likewise, reported movie reviewers back in 1962 when many critics warned family members to “stay clear of the “chronophilia” themes in the dammed “art film” Lolita.
Also, after year’s almost forgotten, Lolita has now been re-released to art cinemas, and is available on the Stanley Kubrick DVD collection; along with recent re-mastered DVD 50th anniversary editions of “Lolita” that still carries a parental guidance warning on the DVD package.
While Lolita was nominated for a number of awards after it was an “underground” hit in 1962, it’s Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, and then winning the Golden Globe for “Most Promising Newcomer,” which went to Lolita teen star Sue Lyon, the movie “entered a different realm of classic filmdom,” explained famed movie critic Roger Ebert.
In turn, Ebert said that “Lolita” is today one of the most honored of films.
Who was Lolita?
According to an AFI history of the film, the name “Lolita” is used as a private pet nickname in the novel, whereas in the film several of the characters refer to her by that name.
In the book she is referred to simply as “Lo” or “Lola” or “Dolly” by the other characters.
Also, the AFI history of Lolita notes the “elephant in the room” when the film was discussed due to the fact that most of the businessmen in power, back in 1962, were the kinds of men who were often seen with let’s say “younger women.”
Thus, the men in power placed heavy restrictions on the film. For instance, the sensors forced Kubrick to “tone down the more provocative aspects of the novel.”
Moreover, the actress who played Lolita, Sue Lyon, was 14 at the time of the filming; thus forcing delays in the usual long days that Kubrick preferred.
Kubrick later commented that, had “he realized how severe the censorship limitations were going to be, he probably never would have made the film,” wrote Richard Corliss, author of “Lolita,” a British Film Institute on the greatest films of all time.
Kubrick Viewed Films As “An Art Form”
Also, Corliss explained how this “master” film maker said he did so few films during his career because of “time.”
His skill had to do with the huge amount of time Kubrick was willing to spend on each scene in a movie; even taking several years, on average, to complete just one of his classic films.
“That’s why all Kubrick films are classics,” quipped Woody Allen during an interview on the DVD extras for the Kubrick Film Collection now out on DVD.
As for “who is Lolita,” Corliss points to one scene form the film where the older man who likes Lolita, the famed British actor James Mason as Humbert, is “playing chess with Lolita’s mother as Lolita kisses Humbert goodnight. His line in the scene is ‘I take your Queen,’ suggestive of his
Later, Humbert confides in his diary: “What drives me insane is the twofold nature of this nymphet, of every nymphet perhaps, this mixture in my Lolita of tender, dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity.
I know it is madness to keep this journal, but it gives me a strange thrill to do so. And only a loving wife could decipher my microscopic script.”
This voiceover is a part of Humbert’s narration, which was central to the novel, but Kubrick uses it sparingly.
Kubrick Faced Censorship For His “Art”
Also, the AFI overview about “the moral values and censorship of the time” is said to have “inhibited Kubrick’s direction.”
Kubrick commented that, “because of all the pressure over the Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency at the time, I believe I didn’t sufficiently dramatize the erotic aspect of Humbert’s relationship with Lolita.
If I could do the film over again, I would have stressed the erotic component of their relationship with the same weight Nabokov did.”
Moreover, the AFI history of Lolita notes how Tuesday Weld was considered for the role of Lolita; while Hayley Mills was also turned down for this role that required real feelings of sexuality coming from the teen playing Lolita.
Also, it’s said that Kubrick originally wanted the very hot star “Joey Heatherton” for the title role of Lolita, but her father, Ray Heatherton, said no for the fear his daughter would be typecast as a “promiscuous sex kitten.”